WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — The U.S. Navy brought John and Carla Rich together. In a matter of weeks, cancer will separate them.
“We’re going through our day to day, visiting him, watching him decline, having to grieve together as a family,” Carla Rich said.
She met her husband when the two were serving aboard the USS Carl Vinson.
“He’s one of those guys that everything is fun. He’s a fun guy. Likes sports and softball and bowling and (is a) diehard Lions fan,” Carla Rich said of her husband.
They married and had a son, now 4.
But in 2021, John Rich was diagnosed at the VA Clinic in Wyoming with glioblastoma — brain cancer. He fought back. Surgery in August 2021 that removed most of one tumor, but two more then formed on his brain.
“One of them was at the base of the brain stem. That was going to be obviously not operable. And also not going to be responding to treatment,” Carla Rich explained. “So the next step is hospice.”
That’s where heartbreak and frustration at the system combined.
Last week, Carla Rich made the call no wife ever want to make, arranging hospice for her husband. It was all falling into place. Veterans Affairs contracts for hospice beds at a facility just minutes from the Riches’ home. But later that same afternoon, another call: Hospice beds were full at the home. There were spots available at other VA contracted facilities in Portage and Lansing.
“In the event we get the phone call that he’s ready to go, I’m an hour away,” Carla said. “In that moment, if he goes, I would never forgive myself for being that far away and not being able to at least say my goodbye to him.”
The VA offered options. Bringing John Rich home to die was one of them.
“We have a young son. We don’t want him to see his dad declining like that. We’re a small family. So that would be difficult to do,” Carla Rich said.
She said her husband’s oncologist also recommended against him coming home.
The other option was to find a home with hospice beds and pay for it out of pocket.
“His oncologist says 30 to 60 days he has left,” Carla Rich said. “And we don’t know if he’ll even make it to that. But if we’re paying out of pocket, that’s 30 to 60 days we’ll have to pay at $450, roughly, a day.”
News 8 reached out to the VA and received this statement Friday afternoon:
“We understand that this is a difficult time for the family, and are actively working to provide alternatives within our legal authority and authorized network. We will continue to work with the family to ensure the Veteran receives the needed care.”
John Rich remained hospitalized Friday at Trinity Health Saint Mary’s in Grand Rapids. The VA says there are no immediate plans to discharge him.
His wife said the treatment he received through the VA was exceptional, but as the end nears, the appreciation she had for the agency has been replaced with frustration.
“They helped me during his treatment, during everything, and will help me after he passes. But during this delicate time when our family is grieving, they’re not helping me,” Carla Rich said. “We’re just asking that they allow him and help us be near us so that when the time comes, we’re very close so that we can get there as a family and say our goodbyes. That’s all we need. That’s all we want. “
On Saturday, News 8 learned that Waterford Place retirement community in Jenison offered John Rich a place to stay at no cost to his family.